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CRHA to focus on policy before installing cameras

The Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority plans to develop a policy to govern its use of cameras before adding them to South First Street public housing.

Officials discussed an early draft of the policy during a safety committee meeting on Tuesday.

South First Street residents have pushed for more crime enforcement and cameras since the slaying of 27-year-old Dre’Shawn Rayvon McDonald in South First Street public housing. The Charlottesville Police Department pledged to increase patrols in an emergency safety meeting called shortly after the shooting.

Police have responded to 13 shots-fired calls on South First Street so far in 2020, more than 2016 through 2019 combined, according to CPD data. The areas around South First Street and Westhaven have seen at least three killings and 64 reports of shots fired in the past five years.

At the last committee meeting, residents wanted CPD to have access to the footage and were worried CRHA would use them for lease enforcement. Executive Director John Sales said Tuesday having a camera policy would be key to allaying those concerns.

“We never thought internally … that cameras would be implemented without having a policy,” he said. “Some of us may be unwilling to move forward without a policy because of the opportunity for the systems to be used in a way that could negatively affect the residents.”

Sales said CRHA has cameras at Crescent Halls and none of the building’s evictions in the past five years were initiated by the agency reviewing camera footage.

Sales said the policy would cover how the cameras are used, who has access to the footage and where they are placed. He mentioned creating a review board to take requests for the camera footage.

“All those things we see as vital, you have no control of it when you don’t have a policy,” he said.

Sales said it could take six to nine months to install the cameras. Some older buildings would need new wiring and CRHA needs to approve the policy.

Board member Laura Goldblatt said the policy would involve resident input, which hasn’t been done in other public housing properties across the country.

“This is a really great opportunity to break new ground,” she said.

The policy would apply to all CRHA properties, although not all would receive cameras. Westhaven resident Rosia Parker pointed out her complex doesn’t necessarily want the cameras and instead highlighted ongoing problems with lighting.

Sales said CRHA is trying to also address lighting problems. He said some light bulbs have been shot out, but other lights have had their wires cut. Cutting the wires can take out multiple lights and requires new underground wiring. Sales said CRHA is replacing the panels to access wires to make it more difficult to cut them.

Goldblatt said the next safety committee will focus on reviewing a draft camera policy. Once it is finalized, it will be distributed to residents for more feedback.

The safety committee next meets at 6 p.m. Dec. 22. The meetings are open to the public and residents are encouraged to join and provide input on safety measures. To participate, visit tinyurl.com/crhasafety. The meeting passcode is 181698.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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